The Spirit of the Sixties: Making Postwar Radicalism

By Sicius, Francis J. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1999 | Go to article overview

The Spirit of the Sixties: Making Postwar Radicalism


Sicius, Francis J., The Catholic Historical Review


The Spirit of the Sixties: Making Postwar Radicalism. By James J. Farrell. [American Radicals Series.] (New York: Routledge Press. 1997. Pp. 360. $19.99.)

Toward the end of World War II Jean Paul Sartre wrote to Denis de Rougemont,*You Personalists have won . . . everybody in France calls himself Personalist. James Farrell has affirmed Sartre's concession with his new book on postwar radicalism. According to Farrell, Personalism provided the common thread that wove through the crazy quilt of Sixties radicalism. Perhaps Farrell has gotten it right. An era that defies coherent explanation possibly can only be defined by a philosophy that defies consistent definition. As John Hellman has pointed out,"Personalism. . . can only be described by its characteristics.?And Farrell has done just that. He has presented American Personalism through characteristics of radicals who probably never read or even heard of this French philosophic movement. But as the author points out, although they had never been introduced to the theory of Personalism, many American radicals in the postwar era certainly acted as if they had.

As with the French personalists, the dignity of the person remained at the core of radical action in the postwar United States. These new radicals, according to Farrell, rejected the cult of liberal individualism and proposed that the person was created for community and each person had a moral responsibility for the other. The author notes that "communitarian spirituality was in fact the most distinctive aspect of Personalism.

According to Farrell, Peter Maurin, the French peasant who along with Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in New York, brought the idea of Personalism from the salons of Paris to the streets of New York, and through the Catholic Workers Personalism became intertwined into the fabric of American radicalism. …

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